Parishioners ask neighbors to welcome strangers as they would welcome Jesus
The Christmas story of Joseph asking for a place to stay when he needed help is put in a new context as people seeking asylum are routinely turned away from America’s Southern border in this holiday season. Members of Centro Familiar Cristiano gathered in the sanctuary of the Methodist Church Thursday, December 14, to hear from people intimately involved in this situation, organized by Michigan United.
Rev. Jill Hardt-Zundel, pastor of the Detroit Central United Methodist Church, was in San Diego, CA where the border fence reaches the Pacific Ocean as part of a demonstration with 400 other faith leaders from across the country.
“We came to bear witness to the injustice of what is happening to those seeking refuge in the United States,” said Zundel, whose church, a member of Michigan United, has supported a family taking sanctuary to avoid deportation.
As Rev. Zundel and the protestors in San Diego got closer to the barrier, border patrol officials dressed in riot gear confronted them. Suddenly, one of the organizers was arrested and charged with assaulting an officer. “In all, 32 people were arrested for singing and praying and trying to bring a blessing to the people on other side,” said Zundel.
“We come here tonight because of other border crossers. Their names are Jose, Maria and Jesus,” Zundel told the audience. “If they were here today and trying to find refuge, a brown skinned Jesus would not be welcomed at the border. He would be tear gassed and ripped from his mother’s arms.” Zundel called for the government to demilitarize, defund ICE and end deportations and detentions.
But in the current climate, people like Edna De Leon find themselves in limbo waiting to see if they will receive the mercy they seek. De Leon fled Guatemala in 2015 because the government would no longer protect her from a criminal gang she had testified against. In a statement read by her Detroit attorney,Miglady Bermudez, De Leon said, “I have no idea when I will have my interview or the results of that interview. It’s a difficult time for me and my daughter. I know many people from my country are at the border right now asking for the same help I asked for in 2015. I ask God to help us all and give us the protection we need.”
The Co-Chair of the Detroit Immigration Task Force, Sophia Chue, an immigrant from Jamaica and a US army veteran said,. “I would never have thought that the country I served would do this to immigrants that are coming here because they think this country could be their home.” She added, “We have to remember that the US/Mexico border is not a war zone and we should not treat it as such.”
Sadly, President Trump doesn’t see it that way. Abdul El-Sayed, the one time candidate for Michigan governor and who is the child of an immigrant from Egypt, said, “(He) has called people coming here, wanting nothing more than the American dream, and he’s called them ‘invaders. As we get to the end of 2018, I hope and I pray that we in 2019 will come to our senses and remember who we are as a country.”
Following the speeches, everyone put on their coats and went outside to take part in the posadas navidenas. The latin Christmas ritual was brought to this community in Southwest Detroit by the people who live here today. They walked through the neighborhood singing carols. When they stop at a house, the lyrics ask to let them in. The homeowner dutifully recites lyrics turning them away so the Posada can continue until they return to the church where they are welcomed, taken in and fed.
One of the highlights of the evening was watching the children, who are lucky enough to delight in this peaceful evening, tear into the pinata and scramble for the candy as it fell to the floor. They enjoyed the treats as much as the adults enjoyed an evening of warmth and welcome in their community.